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Manhattan Prosecutor Convenes Grand Jury in Trump Probe; More World Leaders Blast Belarus Over Flight Diversion; Blinken Met with Israeli and Palestinian Leaders; U.S. Calls for Further Investigation into Covid Origins; Official Olympic Partner Calls for Games to be Canceled; Push to Pass "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act"; Pressure Mounts on Louisiana State Police as Family Alleges Cover-Up. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, Manhattan's top prosecutor reportedly summons a grand jury that could indict Donald Trump. What this means for the former president and The Trump Organization.

In Japan, the power of the press. A top newspaper and Olympic partner pushes to cancel the games. We will have late details from Tokyo.

And a movie promotion turns into a fast and furious apology to China.

Good to have you with us. Well Manhattan's top prosecutor has convened a grand jury to decide whether to indict former U.S. President Donald Trump. That is according to the "Washington Post." Those indictments might happen if the DA presents criminal charges in its investigation into The Trump Organization. The ex-president on Tuesday again repeated claims that he is the victim of a witch-hunt. CNN's Kara Scannell has the details now from New York.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: The "Washington Post" reporting that the Manhattan District Attorney's office has convened a special grand jury to hear evidence in its long-running investigation of Donald Trump and The Trump Organization. The impaneling of the grand jury marks a significant turn and suggests prosecutors believe they have some evidence of a crime.

According to "The Post," the grand jury will sit three days a week for six months, it will also hear other cases and is not exclusively focused on the Trump investigation. But the sitting of a special grand jury is a sign that the investigation is advancing and prosecutors are closer to deciding whether to seek potential criminal charges.

The DA's investigation has been under way for several years. Prosecutors are investigating numerous potential crimes including tax fraud, insurance fraud, also whether The Trump Organization inflated the value of certain properties to get loans, falsified business records or broke the law when reimbursing Michael Cohen for facilitating hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, the woman who said she had an affair with Trump, which he has decide. Late Tuesday Trump said the investigation is purely political, adding, it is a continuation of the greatest witch-hunt in American history.

Kara Scannell, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: No former U.S. president has ever faced criminal charges, while no one knows what's going to happen with the grand jury, of course, CNN's senior legal analyst Preet Bharara says the magnitude and scrutiny on this case could be unlike anything we've seen before.


PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is not the kind of proceeding we've seen before. It's not a pure political proceeding. If there's a trial, if there's a charge and a trial, there are judges, there are defense lawyers, there's open press, there are rules of evidence. It's a strict kind of proceeding. And no former president has been in this position ever before. So when Cy Vance -- we like to think every case is the same and you bring the same amount of sort of sensitivity and deliberation to every case. I think that's generally true.

This is a thing different from any case -- if it gets brought -- ever brought in the history of the United States of America. And if you're going to do it, you got to do it right. You know, I have a word of empathy for the prosecutors in the case. If there is a charge against the former president based on the things that he has done before and the way he, you know, speaks out against his adversaries in the legal field, you know, they need to eat some serious breakfast. Because they're going to become household names and be attacked just for doing their jobs mercilessly by the former president and his minions every day for a long time.


CHURCH: Well meantime, a court filing shows New York prosecutors investigating Trump's former personal attorney have cast a wider net than previously known. They are investigating whether Rudy Giuliani violated foreign lobbying laws by acting as an unregistered foreign agent when he sought the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time. A faulty redaction in the court filing shows prosecutors seized materials from Ukraine's former chief prosecutor and two other Ukrainians.


Well, U.S. President Joe Biden now says sanctions against Belarus are in play but he doesn't want to get ahead of any announcements. His comments come just days after Belarus forced the diversion of a Ryanair flight then arrested Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist, on board. A growing number of countries are urging airlines to steer clear of Belarus's air space, that includes its neighbor Ukraine, which is also banning flights to and from Belarus.

And at the same time a new video has been released showing a Russian national detained in Minsk along with Protasevich. Now this comes one day after the detained journalist appeared in a separate video.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us from Berlin. And Fred, a lot of developments here, international outrage, retaliation is growing, now the U.S. weighing in and of course Lukashenko apparently is responding to all of this.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's speaking in front of the Parliament in Minsk. He started out saying -- a little over an hour ago maybe, and there were quite interesting things that we're hearing coming out of that. Apparently right now he claims that the bomb threat that he says forced the authorities there to make that jet land in Minsk, that that came from Switzerland. Now it was a U-turn. Because of course before that the authorities in Belarus had said that it was a bomb threat that was called in by Hamas, even causing Hamas to say, nope, it wasn't us and actually criticizing Alexander Lukashenko and his government. So that's the new line that he seems to be following.

At the same time he claims that Belarus acted in any way that any other country would. He said it will continue to go after its critics and detractors and also claimed that the plane was flying close to a nuclear power plant. And so therefore, it may have been a dangerous situation. I'm paraphrasing all of this, getting some of these lines in.

Obviously, Rosemary, the international community so far not buying any of that. You have heard from the Biden administration which did say that of course sanctions are in play, however, President Biden didn't want to get ahead of things. And then also you have the EU that has -- it said even imposing some new measures against the Lukashenko regime, not letting certain figures travel into the EU, sanctions against entities and persons.

Then first and foremost, the measures in the aviation sector which on the one hand means that Belavia, the Belarusian airline must not be allowed to fly into EU territory and landing at EU airports. At the same time also telling European airlines not to fly over Belarusian air space and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, he put out an interesting tweet which jut essentially showed Belarus empty. The air space over Belarus empty and he said that that was the EU in action. So we do see that the Europeans and the U.S. to a certain extent working in synch and the EU really by its standards of being a 27-member bloc working very quickly.

CHURCH: Fred Pleitgen joins us live from Berlin, many thanks as always.

Well the next phase of the U.S. Secretary of State's Middle East mission is under way. Antony Blinken is on his way to Cairo now. He will be meeting with Egypt's president and foreign minister to discuss the regional response to the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas militants. Before he left for Egypt, Blinken met privately with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Mr. Rivlin accepted the Biden administration's invitation to visit the U.S. before his term in office ends in July. Earlier Blinken held a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to solidify the fragile ceasefire. He warned both sides not to take any action that would threaten it.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Any steps that either side takes that either risk sparking violence or over time and ultimately undermine the prospect for returning to the pursuit of the two states, we oppose. And that includes settlement activity, it includes demolitions, it includes evictions, it includes incitement of violence, it includes payment to terrorists.


CHURCH: Elliott Gotkine joins us now live from Jerusalem. Good to see you Elliot. So Secretary Blinken now in Egypt, but what all has he achieved so far as he works tone sure this ceasefire holds and also what is the significance of this U.S. invitation to Israel's president?

ELLIOT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Well, Rosemary, I don't think Secretary of State Antony Blinken came with any particularly grandiose ambitions for this trip beyond shoring up the ceasefire between Israel and the militants of Hamas in Gaza. That said, he did come bearing some gifts. So for the Palestinians in particular there was a promise of more aid, for example, an additional $75 million in additional economic assistance.


There was a promise to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem which serves as a de facto mission for the Palestinians which the Trump administration had closed. And also showed his support for the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas, certainly given that the U.S. doesn't speak to Hamas which kind of controls the other part of the Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip.

From the Israeli's perspective there was a promise to help replenish the missiles for the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System, a lot of which of course were used to defend Israel from rocket fire during the last couple of weeks. And also more support for Israel's right to defend itself.

Now, what he didn't make any bones about was the differences of opinion between Israel and the U.S. vis-a-vis Iran and the Iran nuclear deal but did promise if Iran does come back into compliance and if and when the U.S. gets back on board to the agreement that the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of, that they would keep the Israelis apprised of any developments and that they share the objective of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, just have different approaches. And that this would just be a first step to dealing with other Iran-related issues such as its support for proxies in the region, for example, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Now the other gift I suppose for the Israelis was this invitation to President Reuven Rivlin and this is to invite him to the White House before Rivlin's term as president ends in a couple of months. Now, there are some people who are viewing this as a kind of a bit of a snub to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu given that the Biden administration is inviting Rivlin first, but Rivlin is the head of state, although it is kind of, you know, a nonformal role, but -- so this is within protocol. So it's probably reading a bit too much into it to view it as anything more than an invitation and perhaps showing the U.S. is still engaged and happy to be more engaged with the situation here in Israel and the Palestinian territories -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Elliott Gotkine joining us live from Jerusalem. Many thanks.

Well Blinken has some company in the Middle East this week, Russia says it's now operating long-range bombers out of Syria. Russian state media report three of the war planes have reached an air base north of Damascus for training. And this comes as the U.S. confirms a Russia summit is set for next month in Switzerland. Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will have a lot to talk about, including Russia's role in cyber-attacks. Here is what the White House says is on the agenda.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S./Russia relationship. And to more specific to your question, we expect they will spend a fair amount of time on strategic civility. Where the arms agenda goes following the extension of New Start, obviously we are both members of the P5+1 as well, as those negotiations are ongoing. The president will also raise Ukraine, underscoring America's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And he will also plan to raise Belarus and convey our grave concerns as he has now done publicly.


CHURCH: The United States is calling for another investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. But this time experts want an independent and transparent probe with no restrictions, unlike the World Health Organization's four-week trip to China earlier this year. In a meeting on Tuesday Dr. Anthony Fauci and other officials noted further inspection is critical to preventing future pandemics.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Many of us know that it is more likely that this is a natural occurrence as has happened with SARS-CoV-1, where it goes from an animal reservoir to a human. But we don't know 100 percent the answer to that because we don't know 100 percent what the origin is, it's imperative that we look and we do an investigation.

ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: We need a completely transparent process from China. We need the W.H.O. to assist in that manner. We don't feel like we have that now. We need to get to the bottom of this whatever the answer may be and that's critical priority for us.


CHURCH: The World Health Organization is reporting a drop in global COVID infections, saying they were down 14 percent last week compared to the week prior. The largest decline was in Europe. Here in the U.S. the seven-day average of new cases is below 25,000 for the first time in almost a year and at least check about 131 million Americans are fully vaccinated.

But the battle continues. Experts are turning their focus to vaccinating young Americans, warning they could still face long-term symptoms even though their chances of serious illness are low.


And as Americans head toward the Memorial Day weekend the head of the CDC is encouraging all eligible people to get vaccinated.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, U.S. CDC DIRECTOR: If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you. You remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions. And if you are not vaccinated I want to encourage you to take this holiday weekend to give yourself and your family the gift of protection.


CHURCH: Now to another blow for Olympic organizers. A top Japanese newspaper, one of the official partners of the Tokyo Olympics, has published an editorial calling for the games to be canceled due to the pandemic. Asahi Shimbun also accuses Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of putting on the games against the will of the public.

CNN's Selina Wang joins us now from Tokyo where the Olympics are set to open in less than two months from now. Good to see you Selina. So not only does 80 percent of the population not want the games to go ahead but now this calls to cancel the games coming from an official Olympic partner of the Tokyo games. How much impact could this have?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Rosemary. Great to be with you. And that is exactly right. This is one of the most influential newspapers in Japan, the second widest circulating newspaper in the country. And not only is it the first major newspaper to call for a cancellation, but it's also a major Olympic sponsor. And the real question here is whether it leads to a domino effect of other sponsors also speaking out, calling for a cancellation of the games.

One political scientist told me that he thinks this is a remarkable act that will then create the permission for others to follow in its footsteps. Now, this comes on top of poll after poll as well showing that the majority in Japan do not want these games held this summer and the sentiment is really growing that you have money, politics and sport being put ahead of people's lives. And this also comes shortly after the U.S. State Department had issued a travel advisory warning Americans to avoid travel to Japan because of a surge of COVID-19 cases in this country.

Following that you now have U.S. public health experts calling for an urgent assessment of the risks associated with the Tokyo Olympic Games. They say that the risk is not just the further spread of COVID- 19 within Japan, but also the spread of variants around the world as these thousands of athletes eventually return to their more than 200 home countries.

This also tracks with concerns from the medical community in Japan with a group of 6,000 doctors in Tokyo calling for a cancellation of the games. Right now just about 2 percent of the population in Japan has been fully vaccinated and Tokyo and much of Japan is still under a state of emergency -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Selina Wang joining us live from Tokyo. Many thanks.

Time for a short break. When we come back the family of a black motorist who died in custody is alleging a cover up by police.

Tributes, memorials and calls for police reform, they are all happening one year after the murder of George Floyd.


PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: We just want this George Floyd Policing Act to be passed. Because, this is the thing, if you can make federal laws to protect the bird which is the bald eagle, I can make federal laws to protect people of color.




CHURCH: Police have declared a riot in downtown Portland, Oregon. They say crowds threw metal spikes in the road and bottles at officers late Tuesday, then marched to city hall and started breaking windows. Police have warned arrests will be made if criminal activity continues. This comes on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death. Several rallies were held in his honor around the city earlier in the day.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, large crowds gathered in George Floyd Square where one year ago Floyd drew his final breath. The anniversary of his murder by a police officer is being marked across the country with marches and memorials.

In Houston is crowd chanted Floyd's name and cheered as they released balloons in tribute. And here in Atlanta there were shouts of power to the people as supporters honored his life and legacy. Well earlier in Washington, D.C. cameras captured this powerful image,

George Floyd's daughter, Gianna entering the White House while a member of the military held the door for her. She is just seven years old. The Floyd family spent more than an hour in a private meeting with the U.S. president and vice president and afterwards Gianna had this to say about her father.



CROWD: George Floyd.


CHURCH: While in Washington the Floyd family is meeting with key Congressional leaders and negotiators. They are pushing to get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed. The family's attorney says they believe a bipartisan deal is possible.


BEN CRUMP, FLOYD FAMILY ATTORNEY: Well, we are optimistic both Senator Scott and Senator Graham talked to the family for over an hour, talking about how they're making progress. how both sides of the aisle are at the table and they are trying to define specific terms because they feel that they are close, the closest they have ever been, and so we want to encourage them in the spirit of this day.


CHURCH: Meantime, in Louisiana a police officer involved in the death of another black man has been fired for using excessive force in a separate incident. Ronald Greene died in May 2019. Bodycam footage shows officers tasing and repeatedly beating him. Police had said he was killed in a car accident and now Greene's family is alleging a cover up. A warning, our report from Brian Todd contains some graphic footage.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is growing pressure on the new superintendent at the Louisiana State Police to bring justice in the case of the brutal beating of motorist Ronald Greene.

COL. LAMAR DAVIS, SUPERINTENDENT, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE: You have my commitment that we will follow the facts and hold our personnel accountable.

TODD (voice-over): But simply firing the officers involved, if that happens, might not satisfy Ronald Greene's family.

MONA HARDIN, RONALD GREENE'S MOTHER: Someone needs pay. Someone needs to go to jail for this, this is murder that what happened to my son, Ronnie.

TODD (voice-over): But so far, no one has been charged in relation to Ronald Greene's death. Meanwhile, the man heard on body camera footage praising the officers who had beaten Greene during his traffic stop is now the focus of additional allegations of a cover-up on the part of the Louisiana State Police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all did a good job, you all called it out, did a good job.

TODD (voice-over): That senior officer, Lieutenant John Cleary who arrived on the scene when Greene was still detained, did not initially report his own body camera footage in evidence submitted to the local district attorney. That's according to a spokesperson for the Louisiana State Police.

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, FORMER ACTING BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER: This is very disturbing. But it really validates that this is a cover-up. How is that missed after so long by the higher executives in that department?

TODD (voice-over): It's not clear why Lieutenant Cleary praised the other officers at the scene, or what he knew about the incident at the time. A Louisiana State Police captain tells CNN, Lieutenant Cleary who arrived after other officers used physical force to detain Greene during the 2019 incident had three body camera videos, showing troopers still holding Greene to the ground, showing Greene moaning and depicting officers explaining why they didn't sit Ronald Greene upright.

POLICE OFFICER: I was going to sit him up, but I didn't want him spitting spreading all over us.

TODD (voice-over): Greene died on the way to the hospital after being punched, kicked, tased and restrained on the ground, despite video showing him appearing to be compliant with officers.

RONALD GREENE, VICTIM: I'm scared! I'm your brother, I'm scared!

TODD (voice-over): The Louisiana State Police captain who spoke to CNN, says they're conducting internal reviews to determine why Lieutenant Cleary did not initially report his videos. Cleary is also accused by an attorney for Greene's family of lying about another aspect of that incident.

LEE MERRITT, GREENE FAMILY ATTORNEY: He alleged that when he arrived that Ronald was still aggressively resisting arrest. That additional force was necessary in order to get him under control. But what you find in his actual body cam footage was that Ronald was already in handcuffs, he was hog-tied, but he was in feet shackles, that he was fully compliant.

TODD: CNN has reached out but has not been able to get comment from Lieutenant John Cleary or his attorney. We've also not been able to get comment from two of the other surviving officers involved in the case or their attorneys. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Ronald Greene's family filed a wrongful death suit last May claiming he was brutalized by police which caused his death. Their attorney is demanding all the officers involved be fired and arrested.


LEE MERRITT, GREEN FAMILY ATTORNEY: At this point we can't take anyone at their word. We think that Colonel Davis is doing his level best to be as transparent about what actually happened. but at this point, you know, we are going to need to go overall of the evidence with a fine- tooth comb. We believe that district attorney Belton should have another opportunity to turn on the evidence and decide whether or not to bring criminal state charges and certainly there should be a pattern and practice investigation into the entire Louisiana State Police apparatus.

We are demanding that these officers be arrested but the only thing we've got back was conversations about termination. And look, if I beat someone to death on the job and then I lie about it in all the reports and that evidence comes out, the last thing I'm worried about is whether or not I'm going to keep my job. I should lose my freedom and that's what we're waiting for.


CHURCH: Greene's family plans to travel to Baton Rouge tomorrow for a march from Louisiana's state capital to the governor's home.

Well almost six years ago Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a historically black church in South Carolina. Now lawyers for the self- avowed white nationalist say his death sentence should be overturned. They are making their case to a federal appeals court saying Roof was incompetent to stand trial. They said he hid a mental illness and didn't want it used as a defense. Roof fired his attorneys for the penalty phase of his trial back in 2016. He said there was nothing wrong with him psychologically.

Well top Republicans finally condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene's comparison of mask mandates to the Holocaust. Up next, why it took so long and what's next for the controversial Congresswoman.